“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits and I hope for his word. My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak. More than sentinels for daybreak, let Israel hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is mercy, with him is plenteous redemption, and he will redeem Israel from all its sins.”
Psalm 130: 5-8
There was a time when I used to enjoy working in the night. After the noise, the mad rush, and the busy-ness of the day, the night was filled with stillness and a soothing, calming, quiet. Living in hot and humid Singapore, the coolness of the night offered solace as I typed on the computer, or baked into the stretches of early dawn. The hours seemed more purposeful in the solitude.
Then, I did an internship in 2013 with a local Theatre Company. Somehow, theatre people never sleep. It was madness as I would be designing the set or the lighting in the night, then be teaching the adjunct stint in the morning, followed by intense rehearsals in the evening until late at night. Then the cycle would repeat until it came to crunch time – the performance. While it seemed like a fulfilling time – I was on call 24/7 and very busy, it also coincided with a time of exile from God and the Church. While God was beside me all the time, He, in my mind was far away and I drifted further and further away from Him. However, God was and is merciful, and in 2014, began to slowly draw me back to Him, and reveal His plan for restoration.
After a year of attending the Conversation Experience Retreat, the Prayer Experience Retreat, and the Archdiocesan Vocations Retreat in 2016, I left the shores of Singapore, seeking for answers and for help, and ended up in the Cistercian Monastery of Tarawarra Abbey in Melbourne towards the tail-end of 2016.
Priesthood was not my vocation, and I had
written to a few religious orders to explore the possibility of a religious life. The Cistercians replied and welcomed me, so I packed my bags and my worries and went. I also thought mistakenly, then if I said “yes” and left everything behind, it would solve all the problems I had, and life would be better and easier. For now, Religious Life is not my calling.
In the monastery, life slowed down. The hours were punctuated with the meditative chants of the Divine Office, and lunch was mostly silent as we listened to the audio recordings of texts pertinent to our Faith. After Compline, came the Grand Silence. All work was to cease, we were not supposed to even shower at this time, and we were to keep a prayerful silence until the hour of Terce the next morning. There in the monastery, God gently cradled me, reminded me that He would take care of everything, and provided for my every need. For example, I was journaling one day on a random rock outside my dormitory and I wrote to Our Lady that I had forgotten to bring my shaver. That very day, a brother from the postulancy, showed me a cupboard of supplies which included in their nooks, a full packet of disposable shavers. This was the common store and we were allowed to take what we needed. God works and provides in unexpected and mysterious ways indeed. In the silence, God quietly mends, and fixes me. The seeds sprout and flourish as God’s work is done without our knowing.
By Brian Bartholomew Tan
“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realise your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”
– St. Teresa of Calcutta, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers